What Is the Punishment for Joyriding?

States differ widely on punishments for joyriding. A person convicted of joyriding could be looking at probation, jail time, or even prison.

By | Updated By Rebecca Pirius, Attorney

Joyriding—taking or driving someone else's car without permission—is often depicted in film or on television as a youthful rite of passage. But joyriding, also called unauthorized use of a vehicle, is a crime. And a conviction can land you in jail or prison.


The classic example of joyriding is a teenager who takes a parent's car out for the evening without permission. But joyriding can also be committed by strangers or people (such as mechanics or valets) who have access to vehicles for one purpose but use the cars for some other purpose. Regardless of who took the vehicle without permission, it's a crime. Some states also penalize any passengers who ride along knowing the driver doesn't have permission to use the car.

States differ widely on punishments for joyriding. Some states consider joyriding to be the same as theft. In these states, the penalty usually ends up being a felony. Other states penalize joyriding less harshly than theft offenses because the offender's intent was not to take the car permanently, rather only temporarily. These states might impose misdemeanor or low-level felony penalties.

Penalties for Joyriding

The penalties for joyriding depend on state law (as noted above). But generally, the state law represents only the maximum penalty authorized. The punishment actually imposed by the judge will depend on the circumstances of the crime, the offender's criminal history, and other factors. Here are some of the possibilities.

  • Incarceration. The judge will likely impose a sentence of imprisonment. A person convicted of a misdemeanor might serve jail time of less than one year. A felony conviction can result in prison time of a year or more.
  • Fines. Fines vary depending on state law and can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
  • Probation. For a first-time offender or low-level offense, the judge will likely give the defendant a chance to avoid incarceration and order probation. Probation involves a period of court-ordered supervision. A person on probation might need to check in with a probation officer regularly, follow a curfew, or submit to drug testing for the entire period of probation, which can be for six months, a year, or longer. Not complying with probation can result in more conditions, extended time on probation, or worse, being sent to jail or prison.
  • Community service. Judges may also impose hours of community service, such as picking up trash on roadways or volunteering with local charity organizations.
  • Restitution. The court can order a defendant convicted of joyriding to pay restitution (repayment) to any victims who suffer financial losses as a result of the crime. Financial losses could include damage to the car or even the medical bills of a person injured in an accident caused by the joyrider.
  • Suspended driver's license. In some states, people who are convicted of joyriding may have their driver's licenses suspended or revoked.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you are charged with joyriding or any other criminal offense, you should talk to a local criminal defense attorney. An attorney can explain the law in your state, investigate your case, protect your rights, and help you obtain the best possible outcome.

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